Attention, memory and emotion are key concepts in neuro-marketing, since the different methodologies aim to evaluate these three parameters when a consumer has been exposed to a stimulus. With regard to attention, we can say that brands create strategies around stimuli as the central axis to capture the public’s interest. Achieving attention is not an easy task, because it wakes up when something really new and relevant is incorporated into our environment, something that has to do with our reaction mechanisms. The attention works as a filter against the stimulus, which then helps to make the final decision in the buyer. Memory allows the body to store and recall information from the past. We know that the brain eliminates out of context, this explains why it is so important to create in the consumer a sense of belonging to the product. On the other hand, emotions help us gain momen- tum and function as activators of the relevant associative networks of memory, which is why emotion is considered the essence of a brand. This leads us to the conclusion that a product is not worth what it is, but what it means.
In this column we are going to focus on key definitions of attention. The brain consumes between 20 and 25% of the body’s energy. When it is faced with situations where there is too much advertising, it “turns off and disconnects” to save energy. This explains the “Times Square” effect: too much advertising distracts the brain from the focus of attention. That’s why neuroscience can be applied to revolutionize the way consumers interact with the environment to get the most out of advertising. This explains why sometimes we are in the store or supermarket and feel overwhelmed by so many messages and advertising campaigns.
The brain has a limited capacity to process all the sensory stimuli present in the physical world at any moment, and instead relies on the cognitive process of attention to focus neural resources according to the contingencies of the moment. Neuroscientists distinguish between two types of attention: bottom-up and top- down attention. For marketers, by far the most important is bottom-up attention, which is an automatic and thoughtful response.
Bottom-up attention refers to attentional orientation purely by externally driven factors to stimuli that are salient due to their inherent properties relative to the background. Top-down attention refers to the internal orientation of attention based on prior knowledge, voluntary plans, and current goals. In recent years, insights into neural circuitry and bottom-up and top-down attention mechanisms have been gained through neurophysiological experiments. Attention affects the average rate of neuronal activation, as well as its variability and correlation between neurons. In other words, as a recent post on thescienceofpersuasion.com mentions: “Top-down attention is more deliberate than bottom-up attention. Instead of being drawn to what most grabs our attention (bottom-up attention), top-down attention is when we consciously focus our attention resources on something specific.”
The blog also mentions that: “Much advertising works by telling customers how best to look for a brand through iconography, symbolism and repetition – McDonald’s golden arches are very recognizable, especially when you have hungry for a fast food. The reason most brand logos are simple and distinct is so that people can notice it while searching for products within that brand’s category.”
In the literature we find several examples of how these two types of attention can be evaluated and applied. For example, the blog mentions that a company was interested in both bottom-up and top-down service and wanted to redesign their packaging. They were interested in knowing how consumers navigate the super- market, what catches their eye and what they ignore? (attention from bottom to top). On the other hand, they wanted to know what elements and iconography customers look for in the pack- aging of brands in the category of interest (top-down attention).
In an article published on nature.com in March 2019 “Electro- physiological correlates of top-down attentional modulation in olfaction”, we can see a very interesting example of how these evaluations are applied in cosmetics. This indicates that neuroim- aging research on human attention focuses primarily on vision to the exclusion of other sensory systems, particularly smell. The neural underpinnings of human olfactory attention are not yet clearly understood. The authors combined electroencephalo-graphic measurements of the potential related to olfactory events with electrical neuroimaging to investigate how neural responses after inhaling the same odor differ between conditions with different levels of attention and in which brain areas.
Another article published in January 2017 in Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis indicates that limited attention ability means that not all stimuli present in the visual field are processed equally. Whereas processing of salient stimuli is automatically enhanced by bottom-up attention, processing of task-relevant stimuli can be voluntarily enhanced by top-down attention. Typically, top-down and bottom-up influences are present simultaneously, creating a competition between these two types of attention. The authors examined this competence using behavioral and electrophysio-logical measures. The results demonstrated competition between the two types of attention.
An article published in the September 2022 Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services titled “Colors and Price Offerings: How Different Price Communications Can Affect Sales and Customer Perceptions” indicates that while colors are important pieces of information in everyday life and that “reinforce memory, involve participation, attract attention, convey messages and create feelings”, academic research is not abundant and there is a lack of studies linking colors with marketing mix management. The authors conducted a 2×2 experiment (special red vs yellow display/ discount vs LPG price offer) in a real store environment. The re- sults obtained from a three-way analysis (in-store observations, in-store questionnaires, and sales data) can add valuable information about the effectiveness of colors to improve the performance of in-store marketing strategies. There is an interesting opportunity to develop studies that help understand how colors arise from the two types of attention.
Attention, memory and emotion: how to evaluate them? In the following table we will see a list of the most traditional methods in neuromarketing and what parameters they can evaluate.
No neural data, subjective emotion and memory
No neural data, associations, response time
Attention, memory and emotion
Attention, memory and emotion
Attention, memory and emotion
These findings are very important and open us to a fundamental question. How is beauty perceived? Is it Top-down or Bottom-up processing? In future columns we will review more examples related to attention, memory and emotion.
Senior Exploration ScientistatBelcorp Colombia
John Jiménez is currently Senior Researcher at Belcorp Colombia. He is a Pharmacist (National University of Colombia) with a Master degree in Sustainable Development (EOI Business School, Madrid) and specialization studies in Marketing, Cosmetic Science and Neuromarketing. John has 28 publications in scientific journals and a book chapter in cosmetic formulation.
Maison G de Navarre Prize (IFSCC 2004), Henry Maso Award (IFSCC 2016) and best scientific papers at Colamiqc Ecuador 2009, Colamiqc Brazil 2013 and Farmacosmética Colombia 2014. He has been a speaker at various international conferences in Europe and Latin America and was President of Accytec Bogotá from 2017–2019.
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